As NBA Commissioner Adam Silver approached the podium to announce the beginning of the 2014 NBA Draft, the fates of a number of franchises were up in the air.
Would the Philadelphia 76ers trade up to the top spot to get Kansas University freshman Andrew Wiggins? Would the Cleveland Cavaliers still take injured center Joel Embiid with the first pick? Would the Milwaukee Bucks give up their first-round pick for a head coach with little coaching experience to lead their young team?
Most importantly, what did Sixers general manager portantly, what did with liHinkie have up his sleeve?
Armed with an arsenal of second round picks along with two first-rounders, the No. 3 and No. 10 picks, Hinkie seemed poised to make a splash on draft night.
Days prior to the draft, reports had emerged amongst credible NBA insiders that the Sixers were going to try to package their picks, specifically picks three, 10, and 32, for the No. 1 pick from the Cavaliers in an attempt to get Wiggins, long pegged as the team lofavorite prospect in the draft.
As it turns out, the rest of the NBA, as well as several government agencies, could learn a little bit from Sam Hinkie and the Sixers’ front office about keeping secrets.
The Sixers stayed put at the No. 3 spot and, as it turns out, they got their guy.
Center Joel Embiid, the consensus first overall pick before a stress fracture in the navicular bone of his foot threatened to torpedo his draft stock, has been heralded by NBA scouts as a possible Hall of Fame-level talent if his health holds up throughout his career.
He’s already got a commanding post-centric offensive game, even breaking out the Dream Shake — a move made famous by Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon — on occasion. He’s athletic, quick and, most importantly, moves fluidly in the paint and when going from end to end.
To put it simply, Embiid will be an absolute force in the league if he can get healthy. He will be the type of player that front offices dream of building their teams around, assuming he can stay healthy for a large stretch of his career.
Embiid’s injury is pretty uncommon, meaning there isn’t much precedent or history for the recovery or possibility of re-injury. Yao Ming dealt with this exact same injury and it contributed to the end of his career when he played for the Houston Rockets.
And who was the vice president of basketball operations for the Rockets during their saga with the Ming injury? Sam Hinkie.
It’s telling that Hinkie watched a player’s career end in part due to the exact same injury as Embiid’s, and he still took the risk on the young man from Cameroon. It seems Hinkie is confident that the Sixers can handle this injury with more care than the Rockets handled the injury to Yao Ming and believes that Embiid’m upside was too great to pass up.
At No. 10, even the great Yahoo! Sports reporter Adrian Wojnarowski, known for his ability to discover the draft picks of teams before anyone else, was stumped by the Sixers’ front office.
According to Jake Pavorsky of Sixers SB Nation blog Liberty Ballers, Wojnarowski was unable to get any idea of who the Sixers would pick, turning around to ask other reporters what they thought would happen with the 10th pick. Rumors said the Sixers would take Dario Saric, a Croatian forward who was projected to be a possible top-seven pick before he signed a three-year deal to play for Anadolu Efes of the Turkish Basketball League, meaning he cannot join an NBA team on the court until the 2016 season at the earliest.
Similar to last year’s blockbuster trade of Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans, Hinkie stunned the basketball world with the No. 10 pick. Adam Silver approached the podium with a smirk on his face and announced that the Sixers had selected Elfrid Payton, a point guard from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
The Sixers have depth at the point guard position; in fact, the position is fairly crowded. Tony Wroten and Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams hold that spot down for the team, and they certainly didn’t need a point guard this early in the draft. As it turns out, Hinkie had no desire to keep Payton, and was in the process of constructing one of the best trades the Sixers could ask for.
Two picks later, the Orlando Magic picked Dario Saric as part of a trade that was huge for the Sixers. They got the player they wanted at 10, Saric, from the Magic in exchange for Elfrid Payton, but also managed to garner three assets: a 2015 second-round pick, and the 2017 first-round pick they had traded to the Magic in the infamous Andrew Bynum trade.
In short, the Sixers undid the only remnant from the Bynum trade, gathered another second-round pick and still got their guy in exchange for moving back two spots in the draft. That’s about as good of a trade as you’ll find in the NBA, giving up virtually nothing and getting back tons of value. Maybe Hinkie is a wizard.
On top of that, Saric will not only be a great piece when he comes to the Sixers in a few years, but he’s also endlessly entertaining. He began his press conference with “Hello, I’m Dario Saric, and before everything, my English is not so very bad.”
Comparatively, the rest of the draft was fairly uneventful.
With the No. 32 pick, the Sixers picked up K.J. McDaniels, out of Clemson University. McDaniels can come into the team and fill a need at small forward and shows potential both on the defensive end and at the three-point line. Although he only shot around 30 percent on 3-pointers on the year, he shoots 84 percent from the free-throw line, which shows that he has potential as a shooter given some time to develop in that area.
With their next pick they picked up Syracuse University forward Jerami Grant, who could be a suitable replacement for Thaddeus Young when he leaves the team via a trade or free agency after next season. They then traded the No. 47 pick to the Pelicans for Pierre Jackson, an offensively focused point guard who led the NBA Developmental League in points last year. The Sixers then used the No. 52 pick to get Vasilije Micic, a sizable point guard from Serbia, who is a quality guard.
The Sixers traded the No. 54 pick to the Spurs for picks 58 and 60 before trading the No. 60 pick to the Brooklyn Nets for cash considerations and using No. 58 to pick up Jordan McRae, a shooting guard out of The University of Tennessee. He shot 42 percent last year and he seems to be the shooting-focused pick the Sixers need, as they simply have no one else who can shoot.
The major takeaway from the draft: Sam Hinkie and the Sixers ownership refuse to give up on their plan. They picked the best player available in both of their top draft spots, although in both cases the player won’t sport a Sixers jersey next season. The team filled some needs, but for the most part, the front office was all about best player available. Picking up assets for the future and poising this team to be dominant in three to five years.
Given a little bit of luck, this team will be competitive as early as the 2016 season and will be back to winning games, but next season will likely be another loss-filled one. The rebuild is in full swing, and it’s more fun than any fan could have imagined.